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The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy.
A huge potential for crisis management is locked in the geospatial information that people send to each other on the web. This Volunteered Geographical Information (VGI), such as pictures published on Flickr or text messages sent via Twitter with geographic and temporal references can provide timely and cost-effective information. In an Applied Geomatics article, the JRC explores how Sensor Web Enablement (SWE) - a set of standards for sharing environmental observations using latest internet technologies - could be applied to VGI.
It shows that VGI can be used to detect floods and set off alerts, based on pictures posted by the public with data on the time and location the photos were taken or uploaded. Several social media sources can also be combined: it is, for example, possible to spot wild fires in France on the basis of material from both Flickr and Twitter.
These case-studies indicate that VGI sensing can be complementary to remote or in-situ sensors, providing valuable extra information at low-cost. The European Commission's Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS), for example, could be complemented with the volunteered wild fire information mentioned above. VGI technology could furthermore enrich the inputs for crisis management tools and refine their outputs and be one of the central building blocks for the next generation of global geospatial information infrastructures, also known as Digital Earth. Examples of applications include, but are not restricted to, the identification of potentially dangerous events (floods, fires, diseases, etc.), status reports during a crisis (broken down infrastructure, available shelters), environmental monitoring, or measuring the quality of life as perceived by the public.